July 13, 2022

Elections have consequences. And the obvious corollary is that losing an election has both personal and political consequences. And that defeat, especially as it applies to a “steppingstone” officeholder – an incumbent trying to upgrade to a more powerful office without risking the current office – usually portends future problems.   

An ancient parable opines that it is “better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and prove it.” Risk has its rewards. But “steppingstone” incumbents should be cognizant that it might be better to keep one’s office and be thought a winner than to run for another office and be a political loser. Defeat gets noticed.

There are four causations for defeat: (1) A superior opponent; (2) an inferior campaign; (3) previously unknown but now unconcealed flaws and baggage; and (4) bad positioning or mis-positioning on key issues. Here are the “Biggest Losers” in the June 28 Democratic primary election:

IRIS MARTINEZ: “It was an absolute disaster (for her),” said one Democratic consultant. Martinez, who was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court and 33rd Ward committeeperson in 2020, fancied herself as the queen bee of county Democratic politics who was on a mission to elect more women.

Martinez’s campaign committee, Iris for State Central Committeewoman, paid for 3 weeks of pre-primary front page ads in the Chicago Sun-Times proclaiming “Your Vote is Your Power. Women of Change. Vote.” And hyping herself and six other women – Erin Jones, Kari Steele, Letty Garcia, Natalie Toro, Theresa Flynn and, , Carmen Navarro, who had been removed from the ballot. All except Flynn lost. Martinez lost the Democratic State Central Committeewoman race in the 3rd Congressional District. She was defeated 23,389—13,644 by Delia Ramirez, who also beat Martinez-endorsed Alderman Gil Villegas (36th) 36,834-13,768 for the congressional nomination, winning the 33rd Ward 4,172-1,198 and 2,960-2,234, respectively, in each contest. Toro got 18.6 percent in the ward in her county commissioner bid, and lost the nomination to Anthony Joel Quezada, a staffer for Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th). Martinez also endorsed Villegas for state central committeeman, but he lost 22,780-17,282 to Omar Aquino.

The Court Clerk’s office has not really been a steppingstone. Dorothy Brown (2000-20) lost for mayor and county board president. Aurelia Pucinski (1988-2000) lost for board president but won a judgeship and is now an Appellate Court justice. The two previous white guys from Bridgeport, both got indicted and one was jailed.

The office runs the courtrooms and manages the court system. Over 2 million documents are filed annually. It employs 1,800 people, mostly G23 and below, clerks earning under $60,000. Under Brown, it remained mired in the paper-pushing 1980s – digitally-challenged and NOT filing-friendly. The COVID pandemic introduced ZOOM courtroom hearings, but other “reforms” remain a well-kept secret. Maybe it’s just a messaging problem. But more likely it’s because nobody cares.

Martinez’s game plan was to be a grand-reformer, a countywide heavyweight, and a mayoral player in 2023 or 2027. Thus far she’s been a dud.

GILBERT VILLEGAS: In these times, particularly in a low-turnout Democratic primary, symbolism and code-words matter. The legislature created a new Latino-influenced 3rd Congressional District, comprising 14 Chicago wards and 4 suburban townships, plus parts of DuPage County. Villegas chose to package himself as a successful businessman and ex-Marine – the embodiment of the “American Dream.” Ramirez, a state rep, packaged herself as a social worker, daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, and wrapped herself in woke platitudes. It was game over.

It was a blow-out. The social worker trounced the ex-Marine. Ramirez won 36,834-13,768, getting 65.5 percent to the alderman’s 24.4 percent. She ran up massive margins in the gentrifying but still Latino areas around Logan Square, winning 3,204-601 (76.3 percent) in the 1st Ward, 2,918-582 (77.4 percent) in the 26th Ward, 2,415-942 (65 percent) in the 30th Ward, 1,937-807 (63.8 percent) in the 31st Ward, and 3,689-696 (76.3 percent) in the 35th Ward. Those are stunningly lopsided numbers. To be sure, there are about 55,000 people, and 20-30,000 registered voters, but Ramirez clearly connected with the intensity of her base, just 10-15 percent of RVs, and they turned out.

In Martinez’s 33rd Ward, with 28 precincts, Ramirez swept 4,172-1,198 (70.6 percent). Farther northwestward, she won the 35 38th Ward precincts 2,223-1,450 (54.4 percent) and the 12 Portage Park 45th Ward precincts 1,022-327 (67.8 percent). Only in his home 36th Ward did Villegas prevail – and then by only 1,706-1,086 (57.7 percent in 30 precincts. Ramirez won the suburbs 2,338-1,046 (58.5 percent) and DuPage County narrowly.

The area’s two-decade battle for kingmaker between ex-assessor Joe Berrios (31st Ward) and ex-state rep Luis Arroyo (36th Ward) ended with Berrios’ 2018 defeat and Arroyo’s 2019 bribery indictment and resignation. Villegas was allied with Arroyo. The June 28 defeat of Luis Jr. by Quezada for commissioner, with Arroyo pulling just 19.3 percent, shows the Arroyo-Villegas political base has evaporated. Villegas, who once pondered running for mayor in 2023, is now damaged goods and unlikely to b re-elected.

ANNA VALENCIA: Great expectations do not necessarily get fulfilled. Valencia was appointed Chicago city clerk in 2017, after Susana Mendoza was elected state comptroller. Such was her luster that she was unopposed in 2019. She got 264,319 votes, more than double the 110,185 she got in June. She was endorsed by Pritzker, Durbin, Duckworth and Jesse White. Alexi Giannoulias was perceived as a retread, an aging White guy (46) MIA for a decade. But he focused on the relevant issue: Better service. When media reports surfaced of allegations that Valencia steered city contracts to projects from which the clients of her lobbyist husband, Reyahd Kazmi, stood to profit it was game over.

Valencia won 17 of 50 wards, all Hispanic-majority, and 6 north Lakefront wards (40, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49). She lost Chicago 132,926-110,785, the suburbs 124,302-62,705 and overall 427,802-277,754, a margin of 150,048. She will not be unopposed in 2023 for the city clerk gig.

KARI STEELE: She had the pedigree and connections and the right election narrative. An African-American woman running against a White man – in this case, Assessor Fritz Kaegi – in a Leftist-leaning, identity-fixated Cook County Democratic primary. How could she lose? She did, albeit by a narrow 234,628-203,114 margin, getting 46.4 percent.

Kaegi had job-performance vulnerabilities, but Steele ran an unfocused campaign and never defined WHY Kaegi had to go. She relied on race and identity, and did win 19 of 50 city wards, all Black-majority. Kaegi won all the Lakefront, Hispanic-majority and Northwest Side wards, and the suburbs 114,861-87,515. With 3 new MWRD commissioners, Steele could find her post as MWRD president in jeopardy later this year.

DENYSE WANG STONEBACK: “How do you lose an election after just one term?” asked an incredulous John D’Amico, a retired state rep. He’s right. How many enemies can you make in 2 years? But Stoneback over-performed, and lost re-nomination 5,014-4,470 to Kevin Olickal in the 16th Illinois House District, getting 47.1 percent.

Strident and uncompromising, Stoneback voted against the 2021 gun bill because it was not sufficiently confiscatory, and voted against a bunch of bills pushed by organized labor – who then bankrolled Olickal.

KATHLEEN WILLIS: Ingratitude is not the hallmark of an astute. After a decade of holding onto Mike Madigan’s campaign money, Willis ignominiously lost renomination for the 77th Illinois House District 2,453-2,254 to Norma Hernandez. “Park” is a euphemism for allowing somebody else (like Madigan) to direct donors to dump money into an account (like Willis’s), and then having her redirect as told (by Madigan). The process “scrubbed” off Madigan’s fingerprints.

Nevertheless, she quickly abandoned Madigan in early 2021. She will not be missed.

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